Analyze problems and solutions with Kepner-Tregoe

We have talked about root cause analysis before in my blog on the ishikawa diagram. We have also spoken about brainstroming before. With each of these tools you have a risk of developing tunnel vision.  

Usually there is pressure to solve the problem quickly so you can get back to work as soon as possible. You are working towards a solution for a specific problem. Once you have found it it is time to get to action. While your solution may solve the problem at it's root cause it can very well lead to unwanted side effects. One way to test your solutions is to use the six thinking hats to evaluate the solutions as a group or you can ask help from the monitor in your team (Belbin team roles).

The origins of the model

In this blog i will give you another tool to analyze root causes and make sure you do not create a new problem by fixing the first one. It is called Kepner-Tregoe analysis. With Kepner-Tregoe you seperate the problem from the decision by using a structured process. Kepner-Tregoe is also known as the Problem Solving and Decision Making process. Kepner and Tregoe developed this model in the 1960's by analyzing people's problem solving skills. They found that people have learned to ask themselves 4 questions to solve problems:

  • What's happened?
  • Why has this happened?
  • What should i do?
  • What will the result be?

They based their model on these four questions. 

The model

Kelner tregoe analysis

Each of these questions is a process with specific steps to help you solve the problem as rationally as possible. 

  • Situational appraisal: Here you wilk answer the question 'What's happened?'. There are several tools at your disposal to make sure you and your team get a shared understanding of the problem. Here you will determine your priorities (does this situation need to be analyzed?), you will determine responsibilities, list concerns and decide what to do next. Once everyone is on the same page you can move on to the next step.
  • Problem analysis: Here you need to define your problem. You start to work on analyzing the causes of the problem with the five why's, the isihikawa diagram, brainstorm or any other tool best suited to your situation. You make sure you have data available and look for differences. You start working to prove or disprove your causes by using data, hypothesis and scientific thinking. There are many tools available for this. Choose the ones that suit yiur situation. The first three steps of DMAIC are very suitable for this. 
  • Decision analysis: You need to know what you want to achieve by solving this problem. Weigh and prioritize your objectives. This way you can evaluate your decisions against your objectives. Next up is generating alternatives for your decision. This will give you a clear idea of risks and opportunities. Once you have done this you can make your decision based on the facts from the situational appraisal, the insights in causes from problem analysis and the alternatives and objectives stated in this step.
  • Potential problem analysis: Now you are going go put your decision to the test. You can put on your most negative outlook and look for possible risks and failures when using this decsion. When you have founds these you can identify the causes of these risks and work to mitigate them. You need to be alerted when the risk is going to happen, this is where setting up triggers comes in. 

When to use Kepner-Tregoe

Whenever there are a multitude of problems and possoble solutions it is a good time to start structuring your problem solving by using Kepner-Tregoe. If it is a new problem without a clear root cause, a problem you thought you had solved before or a problem with high costs of failure it is also a very good idea to use Kepner-Tregoe.  

I have also found it very helpful when a team or organization was not trained in or used to in depth root cause analysis. Kepner-Tregoe gives structure to problem solving and feels logical. It is easy to use in conjunction with other tools. It makes use of a lot of different talents. This makes Kepner-Tregoe a way of engaging everyone. 


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